I can’t say that I’ve met an American who doesn’t enjoy pizza, although there’s probably a few somewhere. We buy pizza crusts at the supermarket and add the sauce and toppings, or make it simple with the take-out. The American style version of pizza is a heavy affair, loaded up with layer after layer of meats, veggies and cheese, sometimes a couple of inches thick! Not a dieter’s dream, except for perhaps the taste! In any case, pizza is a dish the whole family can love and which we enjoy often.
Some adventurous cooks rely on home made pizza dough recipes, but many of us shy away from this economical option as a foreign cooking skill we can’t master and should leave to the professionals. Authentic pizza dough recipes are easy, quick and inexpensive to prepare. Try the pizza dough recipes given below, one generic, with a number of variations, and I’ll bet you’ll never use the commercially available crusts again.
First, a little background on the differences between the authentic Italian pizza and its American style counterpart. The Italian pizza is usually sparsely topped, (by American standards), with just a few, choice ingredients, baked quickly, at a high temperature, in a wood fired stove which produces that distinctive, very thin and crusty bread, with a savory flavor which is the standard by which good pizza dough recipes are judged. Ask any Italian – the bread is the star of the show.
The three most popular pizza inare the Margherita, consisting of a thick tomato paste-sauce spread thinly over the crust and topped with slices of fresh mozzarella. In second place, is the Napoleatana, a Margherita to which is added small amounts of anchovy. Quattro stagioni comes in third, with toppings representing the four seasons, divided in to quarters. Fresh green herbs or veggies decorate the spring quarter, with tomatoes for summer, prosciutto and mushrooms for fall and of course, fresh white mozzarella for the winter season.
To prepare pizza dough recipes in the Italian manner, little equipment is needed. You’ll need a pizza stone, available in some department stores and any specialty kitchenware shop. Choose a size that accommodates your oven space and is large enough to make a family sized pizza – 16” is a good all-purpose size. You’ll also need a pizza peel, a short handled utensil with a wide, stainless ‘paddle’ attached, to afford easy insertion and removal from the oven. The last item you’ll need is a pizza wheel, which makes cutting the pizza into even pieces a breeze.
One last remark on producing that authentic Italian taste and texture to pizza dough recipes: using buttermilk results in the prized thin, crusty and savory flavor. You may substitute milk or water, but then you’ll need to add ½ teaspoon salt to properly balance the flavor.
1. Dissolve yeast in warm-hot water, about 115-120 degrees. Stir in buttermilk. Add just enough flour to make a soft dough. Don’t add too much. You want a supple, stretchy dough. Knead, gently, by hand, for 10 minutes.
2. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl about twice the size of the cough ball. Cover with plastic warp and allow to rise in a warm place (the top of the frig is a good spot) until doubled in size, about 45-60 minutes. Punch the dough down, kneading very lightly and reshape into a ball. Let it rise again.
3. When the dough is almost ready, generously sprinkle the pizza stone with cornmeal. This is a secret which pertains to all pizza dough recipes! The corn meal acts like tiny ‘ball bearings’ allowing the pizza dough to smoothly transfer to and from the stone, without sticking, as well as adding savor.
4. Flatten the dough and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough directly on the pizza stone. You can also infuse fresh herbs, such as basil or oregano into the dough before baking. Use a light hand and even strokes with the pin. Apply your toppings to the crust.
5. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Conventional pizza dough recipes call for a temperature of 425 degrees. Italians know that attaining that perfect crust requires faster cooking. The flavors and texture of toppings are also enhanced. Instead of cooking for 15-20 minutes, this pizza recipe is ready in just 8-9 minutes!
You can see that these variations on pizza dough recipes are quite easy and will certainly save you money. You’re also rewarded with a superior taste and texture. Embrace the Italian philosophy of ‘less is more’ when it comes to toppings. You’ll be delighted to serve this dish, not often found outside of Italy.